Alzheimer’s disease: Follow these ways to reduce the caregiver burden and burnout

The job of a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient can be harder than you think. That’s why it is essential to avoid burnout before it’s too late.
A caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient, needs care too! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Milan H Balakrishnan Published: 20 Sep 2021, 05:50 pm IST
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In India, more than 4 million people are estimated to be suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and each of them may have one or more caregivers.

Who is a caregiver?

A caregiver is a friend or relative who provides unpaid care for someone with a chronic or disabling condition like dementia and usually are an aging spouse, children, or siblings.

Remember, self-care is also important. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
What are the benefits and challenges of caregiving?

Caregiving is associated with personal satisfaction in helping a loved one. However, most caregivers feel unprepared to provide care. Caregivers report having less time to spend with the rest of the family and friends. They may have financial stress, because of their caregiving expenses. 

They also are less likely to find time for regular health check ups for themselves. Caregivers with high stress levels are at risk of many serious medical problems.

Caregiving is also hard because you often see many changes in your loved one. These changes include:

  • The person you are caring for may not recognise you anymore due to dementia
  • He/she may be too ill to talk or follow simple instructions or take self care
  • He or she may have behaviour problems like yelling, hitting, or wandering away from home

You may have a hard time thinking of the person in the same way that you did before he or she became ill.

Also Read: Hiring a caregiver for your parents? Ask these 7 things before making a decision

Caregiving is gratifying, but it can also give birth to health problems. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Is it normal to have different feelings about being a caregiver?

Yes. It’s normal for you to have many different feelings about your role as a caregiver. At times, you may feel scared, sad, lonely, or unappreciated. You may feel angry and frustrated. You may feel guilty or feel that life isn’t fair. All of these feelings are normal.

How can I tell if caregiving is putting too much stress on me?

It’s normal to have a lot of conflicting feelings. It’s not normal for these feelings to last for a long time or to disrupt your life. Studies show that caregivers are much more likely than non-caregivers to suffer from health problems. These could include stress overload, depression, anxiety, and other issues.

Also Read: Watching your parents get old and frail isn’t easy. Here’s how you can come to terms with it

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What are the red flags of stress overload or burnout?

Signs of stress overload in a caregiver:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or helpless
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Excessive anger towards the person you care for, your family, or yourself
  • Health problems (such as acidity, headaches, body aches or catching a series of colds or flu)
  • Sleep problems (sleeping too much or not enough)
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unhealthy behaviour such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol

Signs of depression

  • Change in appetite; unintended weight loss or gain
  • Crying easily or for no reason
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or helpless
  • Feeling slowed down, restless or irritable
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Headaches, backaches, or digestive problems
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • No interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Sleep problems (sleeping too much or not enough)
  • Trouble recalling things, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts about death or suicide

Also Read: 4 important things nobody tells you about caring for a sick parent

Watch out for the red flags of burnout. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Take care of yourself too

Taking care of yourself:  Learn to tell whether your feelings are normal, or are signs of too much stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, there are things you can do.

Talk to your doctor or your family member’s doctor:  Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed about how you’re feeling. Talk to your doctor about all of your symptoms. He or she can recommend coping methods, support groups, counselling, or medicine to help you feel better.

Talk to your loved ones and your family: You may feel that you shouldn’t burden people with your feelings, but talking about the illness and how you feel can help you relieve stress. Talk with your family members, or friends who can provide support.

Take care of your health: Have regular health check-ups even if not unwell.

  • Avoid using alcohol and tobacco.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • See your family doctor for preventive care.

Educate yourself about your loved one’s medical condition:  Find out all you can about the condition your loved one has, the treatment he or she is going through, and its side effects. Being informed can give you a sense of control. Your loved one’s doctor, support groups, and the internet are good resources for more information.

Stay organized:  A caregiver has a full-time job. You may be doing it on top of other responsibilities. Make a schedule with your family. This will help all of you stay organized and will help you manage the demands on your time. Don’t forget to schedule time for things you enjoy. There is no guilt in that. These could include visiting with friends or going out to dinner or a movie.

Look for help in your community: Community services provide different kinds of help. These include meal delivery, transportation, and legal or financial help. They also include home health care services such as physical therapy, nursing, or respite care for you.

Join a support group: Support groups allow you to share your feelings and experiences with other people going through similar situations. Your doctor can suggest local support groups, or you can do an online search for groups near you.

Seek counselling: Recognizing that you need help takes strength and courage. Your doctor can address or can refer you to a therapist who specializes in the kind of counselling you need.

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About the Author

Dr Milan H Balakrishnan MD DPM Consultant Psychiatrist, Masina Hospital ...Read More

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